I think this 1973 film of the über-popular 1970 book by Richard Bach exists solely to prove to me that not everything about the era of the 1960s (which extends into the first half of the ‘70s as a mindset) had even passing value. When I think of the time, my mind gravitates toward the Beatles and the British Invasion, the films of Richard Lester, Roman Polanski, Ken Russell, the very idea that art was transforming itself and that “we” (the then-younger generation) were starting to question what we were supposed to accept as a matter of course. I tend to forget that it was also the era of Rod McKuen, the “Desiderata” and this pseudo-religious self-awareness drivel. Yeah, it’s actually part and parcel of that questioning-authority business, but it’s also just chock full of smug, humorless preachiness—not to mention an indefensibly high quotient of Neil Diamond songs. (In all fairness, Diamond and this movie deserve each other.)
The whole idiotic business of romanticizing this scavenger bird and turning it into a cockeyed messiah was specious then and it hasn’t improved with age (remember when Barbara Hershey accidentally killed a seagull on a movie shoot and felt compelled to change her name to Barbara Seagull before she regained her faculties?). It’s the cinematic and philosophical equivalent of that ditsy girl you might have met circa 1973 who insisted that the dog that just evacuated his bowels on your sidewalk was “expressing his creativity.” Worse, since Bach’s slim book was so slim, the movie variant of it plods along at a funereal pace—you get 15 minutes of sea and gull footage before James Franciscus’ breathlessly silly voice-overs kick in with the “plot.” For whatever benighted reason, the Hendersonville Film Society has brought it back. I like to support local film showings, but I can’t say I’d recommend this—one of the few movies Roger Ebert ever admitted to walking out on.